A Tradition of Excellence
"Over one hundred and seventy-one years ago, on a crisp November evening, nine young men huddled closely against the evening chill underneath the old Scotia Bridge…”
On that night in 1827, our founders contemplated and laid the foundation for a brotherhood that would become the first, longest, and most distinguished fraternity in the Country. When those nine men reconvened in North College Hall at Union College on the seventeenth of that November, they consecrated an organization based on study, friendship and lifelong bonds that has lasted to this day. Their brotherhood came to be known by the Greek letters Delta Phi. Over the 180 years since that day, Delta Phi has continued in the exclusive tradition they established to promote a strong brotherhood of men of the highest character and ability.
The Union Triad
The Delta Phi Fraternity, along with Kappa Alpha Society and Sigma Phi Society, comprise the hallowed Union Triad - the first three social college fraternities in North America. From these three fraternities at Union College (regarded as the "Mother of Fraternities”) can be traced the extensive Greek system seen on college campuses today. Much as now, anti-fraternity sentiment was rampant in the college administration. Adding to the challenges facing the nascent fraternities was the authority of the man seeking their destruction, Dr. Eliphalet Nott, president Union College and the most esteemed educator of his day.
The Man Who Saved the Greek System
Under extreme duress, both Kappa Alpha and Sigma Phi removed their badges and attempted underground existences. However, the brothers of Delta Phi held firm and refused to disband and continued on in the open, establishing the fraternity as the oldest, continuous fraternity. Delta Phi took up the defense of the fraternity movement and it was a Delt, John Jay Hyde Alpha 1832 (Union 1834) who so convincingly argued the case of the fraternities before the faculty that Dr. Nott, rescinded his proscription of fraternities, allowing them to grow, flourish and expand to other campuses. In turn, Nott's own son would later join Delta Phi during his college days.
John Jay Hyde was to make yet another lasting contribution to his fraternity: the Badge of The Delta Phi, pictured at lower left. This design, worn by members of The Delta Phi continuously since its adoption in 1833, replaced the fraternity's first badge. This badge, based on the Maltese Cross worn by the Knights of St. John (later, the Knights Hospitalers and finally the Knights of Malta), has many symbolic meanings to members of the fraternity. This design was also to give birth to one of the most enduring traditions of The Delta Phi, the use of the name St. Elmo in association with the fraternity.
St. Elmo, Patron Saint of Delta Phi
The name St. Elmo has been in use by some chapters of the fraternity for over 100 years (longer than many other nationals have existed). The practice started at Omicron (Yale) who sought a distinctive name for their home. Once again, hearkening back to the Knights of Malta, who were mariners, the men of Omicron appropriated the name of St. Elmo, the patron saint of mariners. The practice caught on and at many campuses the names Delta Phi and St. Elmo have become synonymous adding yet another layer of tradition to this unique story.
Delta Phi has remained an exclusive fraternity. Rather than engaging in the wholesale expansion policies that have marked the operation of other Greek letter fraternities, the brothers of Delta Phi choose to establish chapters only at the finest schools and usually with proximity to other chapters. It grants its chapters a substantial degree of local autonomy - allowing them to develop their own traditions and policies within the scope of a larger institution.
Members of Delta Phi have come from every walk of life; social and economic. Its members have reached the pinnacles of business, politics, education and service. Our fraternity is an organization where names such as J.P. Morgan, Jr., John Jacob Astor and James Roosevelt and are but the start of a long and distinguished list.